How to Choose a Pair of DJ Headphones

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 3 mins
Last updated 5 April, 2018

Choose your DJ headphones wisely for trouble-free sets.

I was only being provocative when I posted Do Digital DJs Even Need Headphones Any More? recently. Of course they do. But your iPod earbuds won’t cut it, a pair of stereophile ‘phones won’t survive in a clubbing environment, and posh noise-isolating headphones are best left for frequent air travellers.

So as DJ headphones have to satisfy a pretty definable set of needs, let’s go through the eight things you need to consider when buying yourself a set of headphones specifically for DJing with.

Technics RP-DH1200
The Technics RP-DH1200 headphones, designed for DJs.

1. Make sure they’re comfortable
This is for me the most important thing. You will have these things on for hours on end. So make sure they feel good on your ears (not too tight, and not too big/small for the shape of your ears), and – when they’re hanging around your neck rather than on your ears – that the band doesn’t chafe or catch. Make sure the lead doesn’t catch or dig in when your move your head.

2. Go for “closed-back”
Closed back headphones are ones with solid rather than open casing around the ear pieces. These ensure that background noise is as isolated as possible from what you hear in the headphones. That’s important when DJing as in order to “cue up” the next track, you need to be able to hear it well, and with open-backed headphones, to do so might involve pushing the volume up to potentially ear-damaging levels.

Sony MDR-700
The Sony MDR-700 are popular DJ headphones.

3. Are they LOUD enough?
Clubs are loud places. A set of headphones that sound OK at home may simply not pump out enough volume for you to be able to hear them properly in a club. Some digital DJ kit doesn’t have the loudest of headphone output volumes either. So ensure that they are loud and clear at high volumes. Some say it’s good if DJ headphones accentuate the high and lows of the frequency range but I don’t really see it – you can beat-match using frequencies throughout the spectrum! Loud and clear is what counts.

4. Cheap headphones will break
They are going to be trodden on, yanked (so make sure the lead is well attached), stuffed in a bag in a hurry at the end of the night, have beer splashed on them, be sweated into for hours on end, have things piled onto them… a DJ’s headphones have a hard life. Buy well-made ones, but still be aware that if you gig regularly, you’ll probably be replacing them regularly.

Vestax KMX-3 single cup DJ headphone
The Vestax KMX-3 single cup DJ headphone has a padded handgrip for an alternative mixing stance

5.What’s your “mixing stance”?
One of the most common ways to use a set of DJ headphones is with one ear on, one off. This is a basic technique for mixing, as the “off” ear is listening to your monitor speaker and the “on” ear monitoring the other channel. Many DJ headphones have the ability to spin one of the earpieces out of the way while wearing them, and if you are considering a pair like this, try this feature out.

Such a feature is not not essential – but work out how you will wear the pair you’re considering when you’re mixing. (My technique involves using my shoulder to “hold” an earpiece onto my ear – not advisable if you want to keep a straight back as you grow older, says my chiropractor…)

6. Make sure they have a 1/4″ jack
That’s the plug. If it’s the size of an iPod plug, it’s an 1/8″ jack, and you’ll need a converter to plug it in to the majority of DJ mixers and controllers.

Sennheiser HD-228 headphones
For non-club gigs I used to use a pair of Sennheiser HD-228s – they look good, they’re portable, they’re cheap, and though not DJ phones, they’re good enough for bars.

7. Are they portable enough?
For a digital DJ, having a pair of ‘phones that fit in your gig bag along with your laptop, controller and other essentials is a consideration. Make sure they fit where you intend to store them as you’re on the move.

8. Looks DO count
Like it or not, DJing is performance and you’re standing in front of people who are looking up at, and maybe even to, you.

Making sure your headphones look the part will make you feel more confident if nothing else.

• Headphones? Check. Controller? Check. Music? Check? Gig…? We can help with that! grab How To Digital DJ Fast to learn more.

What headphones do you use? Would you recommend them to other DJs? How long do your ‘phones last before you have to replace them? Let us know…!

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